During the first half of the Rutgers season, the offensive line played poorly as senior quarterback Mike Teel found himself constantly pressured and sacked. Teel was never the best decision-maker under pressure and this forced him to make some very bad throws, which resulted in Rutgers’ 1-5 start last season.
Offensive line Coach Kyle Flood reshuffled the line, adding Art Forst into the lineup at right guard, benching fifth-year senior Mike Gilmartin, moving Kevin Haslam to right tackle, and switching Caleb Ruch from right to left guard.
The new offensive line played a lot better. Mike Teel had lots of time in the pocket, which resulted in him throwing for 3,415 yards and 25 touchdowns that season. Teel threw four interceptions the second half of the season compared to eight in the first half of the season.
With Mike Teel gone, can this line provide Rutgers’ new quarterback Dom Natale enough protection to be successful?
It looks like the answer is yes, since the Knights return all five starters on what should be the best offensive line in the Big East and could be one of the top lines in college football. This season the Scarlet Knights definitely have power in the trenches.
The Starting Five:
Manning the left tackle position is junior Anthony Davis, a homegrown 6'6" lineman from Piscataway, N.J. He was a freshman all-American in 2007 and a first-team All-Big East lineman in 2008.
A preseason Outland Trophy candidate, All-Big East lineman and projected NFL first round draft pick, Davis has taken on the likes of George Selvie in the past and the preseason “Big East Defensive Player of the Year” and held him to no sacks.
The right tackle position belongs to Kevin Haslam. A versatile player, Haslam can play tackle or guard, excelling at both positions. Last season he started at left guard but was moved to right tackle to replace the struggling Mike Gilmartin.
At center is preseason Rimington Award candidate Ryan Blaszczyk. Blaszczyk is in his third year as a starter and has helped hold together one of the Big East’s top lines his past two seasons. More of the same should ensue.
Art Forst and Caleb Ruch will start at the guard spots. Ruch, a redshirt sophomore, started all twelve games last year, first at right guard then on the left. Ruch has proven himself a very good run blocker.
The 6’8" Forst is a true sophomore who started the last eight games of the season at right guard and was a big part in the offensive line’s success.
He is also on the same path Anthony Davis took as a freshman.
Forst, like Davis, was a top offensive line recruit who started his true freshman season as the backup right guard. They both took over a few games into the season and excelled right away. If Anthony Davis skips his senior year and leaves for the NFL draft after this season, Forst will most likely be moved to left tackle just like Anthony Davis was after tackle Pedro Sosa graduated.
Matthew Hardison, Howard Barbieri, and Desmond Stapleton are versatile and reliable backups who have proven they are ready to come in and play if there is an injury. Devon Watkis and Desmond Wynn are the other two backups. All the backups have had previous playing time.
This unit has had a year to grow together and expect fewer sacks than last year, less pressure on Dom Natale, and more production from Natale and the running backs.